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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

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Cantor, one of the least competent. Kronecker won. But, as will
appear later, Kronecker's bitter animosity towards Cantor was
not wholly personal but at least partly scientific and dis-
The year 1874 which saw the appearance of Cantor's first
revolutionary paper on the theory of sets was also that of his
marriage, at the age of twenty-nine, to Vally Guttmann. Two
sons and four daughters were born of this marriage. None of the
children inherited their father's mathematical ability.
On their honeymoon at Interlaken the young couple saw a lot
of Dedekind, perhaps the one first-rate mathematician of the
time who made a serious and sympathetic attempt to under-
stand Cantor's subversive doctrine.
Himself somewhat of a persona nan grata to the leading Ger-
man overlords of mathematics in the last quarter of the nine-
teenth century, the profoundly original Dedekind was in a posi-
tion to sympathize with the scientifically disreputable Cantor.
It is sometimes imagined by outsiders that originality is always
assured of a cordial welcome in science. The history of mathe-
matics contradicts this happy fantasy: the way of the trans-
gressor in a well-established science is likely to be as hard as it
is in any other field of human conservatism, even when the
transgressor is admitted to have found something valuable by
overstepping the narrow bounds of bigoted orthodoxy.
Both Dedekind and Cantor got what they might have
expected had they paused to consider before striking out in new
directions. Dedekind spent his entire working life in mediocre
positions; the claim - now that Dedekind's work is recognized
as one of the most important contributions to mathematics that
Germany has ever made - that Dedekind preferred to stay in
obscure holes while men who were in no sense his intellectual
superiors shone like tin plates in the glory of public and aca-
demic esteem, strikes observers who are themselves 'Aryans"
but not Germans as highly diluted eyewash.
The ideal of German scholarship in the nineteenth century
was the lofty one of a thoroughly co-ordinated 'safety first', and
perhaps rightly it showed an extreme Gaussian caution towards
radical originality - the new thing might conceivably be not